The local election in May 2017 was the second time that I have been a candidate for the Scottish Green Party in the West Garioch ward of Aberdeenshire Council. Here you will find updates from my campaign along with some post election thoughts.
You can find our Aberdeenshire manifesto and some of my leaflets here.
Well, well that was a turn up for the books. Very few people saw that result coming. The Prime Minister certainly didn’t, and nor did the press. I must admit to a certain schadenfreude watching the unfolding drama as the hand of hubris slapped Theresa May down. I was grinning nearly as widely as George Osborne, but as the night wore on my joy was tempered by the reality of the situation that we are now in. Yes, Theresa May’s arrogance was exposed but we do not have a parliament even closely resembling that which I’d like to see (which was never on the cards anyway) and it has left the country without an effective government.
The polls showed she couldn’t fail. The polls were wrong.
Having been an almost invisible Remainer, Theresa May was accused of opportunism when she won the Conservative leadership – almost by default – against some prominent Brexiteers. However, being the Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority it seemed wasn’t enough. She wanted to win an election and she saw a chance to do this while significantly increasing that majority and hammering a beleaguered Labour party into the ground. The polls showed she couldn’t fail. The polls were wrong.
Theresa May’s arrogance has been on display since she first called this election to ‘crush the saboteurs’ as the Mail put it in their inimitable way. She was convinced that she would win a landslide victory and increased majority and not many, it seemed, disagreed as the 1992 Committee chanted “Five More Years!”.1 But if you thought her decision to call the election was breathtaking then her behaviour on Friday morning reached another level altogether. She had made the most monumental misjudgement in British politics since…. well since David Cameron called an EU referendum, and yet there was no hint of that in a speech in which she vowed to form a government that can provide certainty. “Now let’s get to work”2 she said, as if her plan had been executed perfectly.
My distrust of Mrs May goes back to 2011, when as Home Secretary she claimed at the Conservative Party conference that an immigrant could not be “deported because – and I’m not making this up – he had a pet cat”.
It turned out she was making it up.3 This is a prime example of what I call – for wont of a better phrase – the ‘age of bullshit’. Yes, the story is untrue, but it’s a little simplistic just to call it a lie. Theresa May (or at least her department and speech writers) knew that the story about the cat wasn’t accurate but it’s the aside about not making it up that really irked me. As soon as she had uttered the words, fact checkers were to be found debunking her suggestion, but the beauty of bullshit is that, if used effectively, the lie can reach more people than the truth. In this instance, the calculated false incredulity was just enough to give the story extra legs. On other occasions, these things can be spread by simply shouting them frequently and loudly enough or by printing them on the side of a bus. The bullshit doesn’t even need to be a lie, often it is just meaningless nonsense such as ‘make America great again’ or ‘take back control’. Theresa May’s campaign had rather more bullshit than substance.
So, what of Labour? Jeremy Corbyn has claimed a famous victory. Certainly Labour surpassed most people’s expectations – no mean feat against the backdrop of such a hostile press and unsupportive colleagues – but he has not won. Labour will be hoping that this result will unite the party and prove the foundation for a genuine hope of government at the next election. Sure, some of his detractors may have been won over, and I never subscribe to theories that anyone is unelectable, but problems remain for Corbyn and for Labour. I think there was a very distinct dynamic to this election and one which emphasised even more strongly the duopoly in our politics. The next election, whenever that may be, could be completely different. Yes, there was much against Corbyn in this election but there was also much for him. By focusing the campaign on the choice between her and Corbyn, Theresa May ensured that many who were against her gave their support to him. Tactical voting was very much a factor in this election and, while a variety of people benefited across the country, I’m sure Corbyn did particularly well out of this.
In Scotland too, nobody can really claim a victory from results that were probably far more predictable than the UK wide vote. With 56 of 59 seats won in 2015, there was only one way the SNP performance could go and results in other elections in the last year or so indicated that it would be the Conservatives that would benefit from this. It was no surprise to me that the SNP lost enough seats to look vulnerable while still being comfortably the largest group of Scottish MP’s in Westminster. On the flip side, other parties – the Conservatives in particular – can point to gains as a sign of success but are still vastly outnumbered. As with the Council elections last month, Ruth Davidson (it was all about her just as it was about May nationwide) focused on opposition to a second independence referendum to the near exclusion of all else. Unlike last month, however, this is at least an issue relevant to Westminster.
Of course, as the leader (at the time of writing) of the largest party in the Commons, Theresa May is entitled to attempt to form a government. As much as we may not like it, she can call on the support of whichever party – or parties – that she chooses. However, any deal with the DUP – which has still to be agreed – seems fraught with danger. Not least because one of the many accusations that her campaign threw at Jeremy Corbyn was that he was a ‘terrorist sympathiser’ as he’d had discussions with Sinn Fein. It is those repeated attacks that make her deal with the DUP – every bit as connected to paramilitary groups as Sinn Fein – look just a tiny bit hypocritical and vulnerable.
Theresa May must maintain her promised “strong and stable” government in the most difficult of circumstances.
More significantly, though, Theresa May – for I imagine this will still very much be the May show – must maintain her promised “strong and stable” government in the most difficult of circumstances. Following the 2010 general election, I confidently (and incorrectly) predicted that we would be facing another within 12 months. I underestimated the extent to which the Lib Dems would be prepared to compromise on their apparently firmly held principles. Even without the ties to paramilitaries, the DUP seem a more toxic party to do business with. They take some very strong positions on issues so divisive they make the soft/hard Brexit debate look like choosing a favourite flavour of ice cream. If this government is to have any hope of lasting anywhere near a full term while achieving anything in policy terms, the PM will have to keep both the DUP and more moderate members of her own party happy. That’s not going to be an easy task for a leader so clearly weakened by this election.
With a week to go, it’s time to talk about the General Election; a subject I’ve been fairly quiet on to date. I think a lot of people – even those of us involved in politics – were with Brenda on 18th April when Theresa May announced a snap General Election. I was campaigning around West Garioch that day and for the remainder of that campaign, I found little enthusiasm for the prospect of this election. As has been often cited, in Scotland we have been to the polls 6 times since the independence referendum in Septemeber 2014.
If there is an element of voter fatigue, it’s hardly surprising given that Theresa May had made it very clear, several times, that she would not be calling an early general election.1 What we needed, she said, was a period of stability where she could focus on Brexit. Suddenly, she changed her mind; it is now essential that we have this election – the most crucial in a generation – in order to give her the strength and stability (more of that later) to negotiate effectively with the EU. On top of that, the reasons she has given for changing her mind simply don’t add up.2 Her claim that an increased majority will strengthen her hand can only be valid if she tells us before we vote next week what that position will be. Then, perhaps, she can tell the EU that her negotiating position has been backed by the British electorate and must be respected. But she hasn’t, and won’t, do that. She was at great pains to point out that some in parliament did not fully support her approach to Brexit. She failed to point out that such opposition has not stopped its progress, nor does it seem unreasonable given that Brexit was apparently about the sovereigty of our parliament.
There were suggestions that the threat of legal action hanging over several conservative MP’s in relation to their election expenses from 2015 may have figured in her calculations. That’s certainly plausible, given that charges would have prompted some tricky by-elections. As it happens, the CPS has now ruled out prosecutions on the grounds that it wouldn’t serve the public interest.3 Far more relevant to Theresa May’s decision, I believe, were the opinion polls, despite recent evidence suggesting that these are increasingly unreliable, that suggested a comfortable Conservative victory. Without this election, Theresa May would be Prime Minister until 2020, at which point a general election might prove quite difficult for a PM who led us out of Europe – something that she herself claimed would not be in our national interest.4. By calling this election – one which she believed she would win with ease and an increased majority – she could retain power for an extra couple of years and probably calculated that a 2022 election would be a little less problematic that one in 2020. Unfortunately, Theresa May appears to have approached the election with the same complacency with which her party prepared for the EU referendum. Her strategy has been the repetition of her ‘strong and stable’ mantra and a hope that the electorate would accept vague suggestions that she’ll do the right thing rather than offer detailed policy.
This ‘trust me, don’t trust Jeremy’ approach, may yet prove sufficient to protect, or even increase, the Conservative majority, but I fear it is indicative of the way in which political campaigns are going. Elections have long been about soundbites but recently they appear to have been about one single soundbite, repeated ad infinitum. Even in the local election campaign in Scotland, the Conservatives in particular focused almost entirely on opposition to a second referendum on independence that is completely outside the control of local councillors. And it worked. Perhaps this comes from having two significant referendums in recent years, a political mechanism that we have not been used to in this country. ‘Strong and stable’ means nothing without policies and actions to back it up and it starts to look a bit misjudged when the policies that are put forward need to be ‘clarified’ (I’m feeling charitable) a few days later. Nor does it look strong to avoid facing questions from the public, or debating opponents face to face. Just yesterday, in defending her decision not to appear on last night’s leaders debate, Theresa May said that it was more important to prepare for Brexit than appear on TV5, again begging the question why did she call this unnecessary election. Perhaps it is also a sign that she is starting to regret it.
In short, this campaign, while mercifully short, has not been vintage in the level of debate, and would have done little to improve Brenda from Bristol’s mood. I won’t be foolhardy enough to predict the outcome next week but can only hope that the following campaign – whenever and whatever that may be – might provoke fewer face-palm moments.
A quick look at the first preference votes for each party in West Garioch compared to 2012. The Conservative message – one which I still believe to be irrelevant to a council election – appears to have reached people who didn’t vote in 2012.
Excellent news that Green Councillors Martin Ford and Paul Johnston have reformed the Democratic Independent and Green Group on Aberdeenshire Council.
The DIGG has worked well for several years, seeking common ground with other progressive groups and individuals on the Council to good effect. They’ve had some notable achievements, making a real difference for Aberdeenshire residents.
As you’ll know, I wasn’t successful in my attempt to be elected to represent the people and communities of West Garioch. I’m immensely proud of my campaign, which focused on the local issues that those elected today will now be taking decisions on.
That’s it. The polls are closed and the votes are in.
Whatever happens tomorrow, I know that I have done everything I possibly could with the time and resources available to me. That is thanks to the many people who have helped and supported me over recent months; you know who you are and you will receive fuller thanks in the coming days.
The polls open at 7.00 in the morning folks. I have spoken to very few people during this campaign who have told me they’re not intending to vote but history tells us that something like 65% of people won’t.
In this election, possibly more than any other, your vote will count, will make a difference and will go towards deciding who will be your representative to make decisions about schools, roads, waste and all the other services we all rely on.
Please vote, and if you’re in West Garioch and would like a councillor who will work hard for you and always prioritise key services, please give me your number 1 preference.
Finally, before voting tomorrow, here’s what we have to say about Education and Life-Long Learning in our Aberdeenshire Manifesto.
Nothing Aberdeenshire Council does is more important than educating our young people. That view will always inform our choice of priorities when the Council faces difficult budget decisions.
With two days to go, here’s some more from our Aberdeenshire manifesto; communities and well-being.
As a provider of a wide range of public services, Aberdeenshire Council has a key role in promoting good health and helping people lead a happy and fulfilling life.